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Six NFL teams are stepping up to the Mike

Don't give up, Ditka. I know, your guys _ Da Bears _ opted for a Smith known as Lovie, but here's your comeback hope: These are rich times in NFL coaching for guys named Mike.

With the Bills hiring Mularkey, there are six Mikes in charge, including Shanahan (Broncos), Holmgren (Seahawks), Sherman (Packers), Martz (Rams) and Tice (Vikings).

Oakland still is searching.

We see no contemporary Georges (Halas), Dons (Shula), Pauls (Brown) or Vinces (Lombardi), but Mikes are hot, even if none of them coached a team as far as this season's AFC or NFC championship games.

Mikes went a shaky 1-3 in playoffs. They might've won none if there hadn't been a Sherman-Holmgren faceoff in Green Bay. No coach was more scalded by January criticism than Martz, with Sherman a charred runnerup.

Even so, Mikes are in.

In the 21st century, we see many players with mod and creative first names, but the NFL coaching business is dominated by old-line U.S. monickers. There are three called Bill (Parcells, Belichick, Cowher).

Keeping it simple, there's a Tom (Coughlin), a Joe (Gibbs), a Dave (Wannstedt), a Jack (Del Rio), a Jeff (Fisher), a Steve (Mariucci), a Dick (Vermeil), an Andy (Reid) and a Tony (Dungy).

They could call the NFC South "The J Division," because coaching names all begin with that letter: John Fox, Jon Gruden, Jim Haslett and Jim Mora. In the NFC West, you get two Mikes (Holmgren, Martz) and a pair of Dennises (Erickson, Green).

So if you're an Earvin, a Constantine or a Hubert, current odds appear to be against becoming an NFL coach. Most unusual among today's NFL coaches is probably Herman, the Edwards with the Jets. Surely it will evolve to more 22nd century complexity.

Don't even suggest Mike Shula.

Mike Heimerdinger, a legit possibility.

Ditka? We'll see.

Whatever happened to Jim Mora Sr.?

RECOLLECTING: Here's a Mike who wasn't such a hottie in 1988 when a rich kid named Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers in the poor-boy 62nd round. ... Terry Francona now guides the Red Sox, fortified by the minor-league experience in Birmingham of managing lanky, overmatched .202 hitter Michael Jordan. ...Defensive standouts don't win the Heisman Trophy, but Dick Butkus should've in 1964 when the Illinois linebacker was voted third behind quarterbacks John Huarte of Notre Dame and Jerry Rhome of Tulsa. ... Speaking of lowly drafted gems, Bart Starr was plucked in the 17th round by Green Bay in 1956 and became the lone QB to direct five NFL championship teams. ... Only two-time MVPs now eligible but unelected for the Baseball Hall of Fame are Roger Maris and Dale Murphy. ... Rex Grossman will try, but no passer for the Bears has led the NFL in touchdown passes since Johnny Lujack in 1949.

THE LAST WORD: Michelle Wie is back in Oahu in ninth grade, enjoying learning to speak Japanese but struggling to be attentive to math, history and science.

Most 14-year-old girls daydream about 14-year-old boys or getting a car and joining the party brigade. Michelle fantasizes about winning the Masters.

I've scratched my graying head, searched my high-mileage mind, and I can't come up with a female athlete who ever had a better chance of successfully competing in a game of power and skill against the world's most adept men.

She's already a 6-footer who averages 285 yards on drives and often tops 300. Oh, I do want her to enjoy being a kid, to progress step by step in global golf. Burnout would be a bad deal. But if she wants to try leapfrogging, there will be no more holding back Wie than there was harnessing basketball's LeBron James at 17 or 18.

She appears to have fun while challenging golf history. Pressure has been immense but she shows no wilt. She talks of playing both the PGA Tour and among the women of the LPGA. Could she eventually dominate the LPGA as the Williams sisters have overpowered women's tennis?

Wie said her No. 1 target is to qualify for the Masters tournament and eventually to win it. Don't say "no way." Even the biggest doubters, including grumpy Vijay Singh, by now can see Wie's promise. If she's this amazing at 14, what happens when Wie is 19 or 24?

Nobody among Singh, Ernie Els, Davis Love or Tiger Woods would've had a chance, at 14, to match her 72-68 score in the Sony Open.

"Anybody who says they could've," Els observed, "well, they're lying."

Anybody who doubts Wie's possibilities, anybody who begrudges her the opportunities, well, they are the ones who need to grow up.

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